Forum centers on diversity at U

Emma Carew

In a public forum Tuesday that addressed diversity issues on campus, it became clear that some still think the University has a long way to go.

During the forum in Walter Library, the University’s diversity task force opened the floor to University community members.

“Our main goal was to listen,” task force co-chairman Louis Mendoza said. “I think our structure was open enough for people to express their concerns, experiences and ideas.”

About 30 people, primarily University faculty and staff members, gathered to share their ideas and suggestions with the task force.

A second set of forums will be next week to focus on students’ ideas and opinions.

The objective, Mendoza said, is to provide students, faculty, staff and community members with an opportunity to give insight, opinion and vision on how the University addresses diversity and how it can improve these efforts.

The task force presented six statements regarding diversity programs and climate on campus and asked participants to agree or disagree with the statements and share their opinions.

In addressing whether the University has barriers to success for diversity, Tex Ostvig, former General College and College of Liberal Arts student and current coordinator of U-Connect, said that when he made the switch from the General College to CLA, he noticed a distinct difference in the advising staff.

Ostvig said he felt like a number with his CLA advisers, and that his the General College advisers had been much more caring and nurturing.

Repeatedly, staff and faculty members from a number of colleges said they needed to see a commitment by the University to change its attitude about diversity from the top down.

Nancy Hugg, associate to the dean of the General College, said diversity is a word that comes up in a lot of documents that deal with the University’s planning and that no one wants to believe in diversity more than the General College.

“Convince me,” she said, wanting the University to show through actions, not just words, that its leaders are committed to new attitudes toward diversity.

The University is creating a new vice president position, in which he or she will act as a leader of access, equity and diversity at the University. The intentions and responsibilities of the person in this position was one of the topics debated.

The new vice president should not be “the keeper of the people of color,” said Patricia Whyte, acting director of the Graduate School diversity office.

The University needs to stop focusing on trying to “fix” what the student body looks like and focus instead on having the students interact with one another, Whyte said.

“It’s not enough to just be in a room together,” she said. “Students need to leave (the University) knowing more than they came with.”

Minnesota Student Association President Emily Serafy Cox said she thinks the admissions process needs to become more diversified and focus on the student as a whole, looking at all the things a student does and all the ways a student is smart.

The changes need to be detail-oriented and widespread across the University community, she said.

“All those slight changes will then add up to something more substantial,” Serafy Cox said.

The diversity task force is made up of 10 members, mostly faculty and staff members from several colleges, as well as one student.

“I think we got lots of valuable input,” task force co-chairman David Weissbrodt said.

“It sounds as though (some University programs) have been making a real effort towards diversity,” he said. “Those efforts need to be replicated in other areas.”